Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thoughts on Anti-gay Law in Nigeria



The Nigerian senate recently passed a bill criminalising homosexuality in the country. If the bill is upheld by the House of Representatives, President Goodluck Jonathan may sign it into law and this could spell stints of up to 14 years in jail for the crime of homosexuality.


Naturally western leaders have risen in condemnation of the proposed law, with the American government threatening to cut or stop American aid to Nigeria, as surely other non-African leaders are wont to do. There is no shortage of voices rising against this move by the Nigerian government, including Amnesty International who in a statement suggests that if passed, the law "…would place a wide range of people at risk of criminal sanctions, including human rights defenders and anyone else -- including friends, families and colleagues -- who stands up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people in Nigeria,"


Socio-political activism in Nigeria tends to be rather highly dramatic and some might say, even dangerous. However it is quite unlikely that Nigerian leaders could try to silence activists or political opponents by branding them gay or lesbian and stashing them away in jails for up to 14 years. An anti-gay law has never been necessary to exercise political intimidation in Nigeria. It is inappropriate to suggest that this anti-gay bill will feed a culture of witch-hunt. In fact, many Nigerians believe that it seeks to preserve the cultural and spiritual well-being of the society in an ill-advised manner. Besides, when viewed from an angle that a normal family setting is desirable, especially if children are to be brought up within them, a law prohibiting same-sex marriage may be necessary in order to prevent emotional violence against possible offspring. Many people across the world strongly believe that children should not be brought up by same-sex couples because such an environment would surely be confusing to them and will definitely set them up for ridicule in schools, which might damage them emotionally and psychologically for life. The wrongness of this kind of family building is clear in the marriage of celebrity musician Elton John and David Furniss. They had a child in 2010 through a ‘secret’ surrogate mother. Apparently their sperms were mixed up and used to inseminate the woman and it has been reported that they as yet don’t know which one of them is the father.


While there is a basis for understanding the reasoning behind putting a law in place against gay marriage, legislating against harmless, possibly transient romantic liaisons between same-sex couples cuts it fine along lines of violation of rights. The argument here is that if two adults wish to engage in homosexual activity that is harming nobody, they should not be prevented from doing so. However if they wish to get married and possibly proceed to acquire children, the society has a responsibility to protect those children.


Nigerians in Nigeria and in the Diaspora have widely different takes on the issue. For many, the feeling is of sheer incredulity that in a country where armed robbery and kidnaps are rife, in a country where terrorism is growing fast with bombings of public places claiming lives, in a country where unemployment is becoming unmanageable, prices are soaring, millions are starving and unsure of how they will survive, the law men have placed priority in criminalising homosexuality. There are others who oppose the law on the grounds that the government is trying to interfere in some basic human rights of the Nigerian citizenry. There are of course a lot of voices rising for the sake of it, who must always make propaganda of themselves by finding something wrong in everything the Nigerian leadership does.


As these voices rise against the impending law, millions of others are raised in support of it. From a cultural and religious standpoint, the majority of Nigerians will never accept homosexuality. This is the major problem that those who oppose the bill will have. Nigeria is not ready and may never be ready to embrace gay and lesbian activity in the country.  It just will not happen. No matter how hard people try to argue that they are born that way or have made a choice to live that way, it is nothing that will gain acceptance.


The major problem is religion. The two major religions in Nigeria are Christianity and Islam. More than anywhere in the world, followers of these two religions are overzealous and intolerant of opposing or dissenting views. Both Islam and Christianity deem homosexuality to be wrong.


Islamic.org.uk  for instance offers the perspective that “There is no doubt that in Islam homosexuality is considered 'sinful'. Homosexuality as far as Islam is concerned is a profound mistake (as are all sins if they are not intending to do wrong). Humans are not homosexuals by nature. People become homosexuals because of their environments. Particularly critical is the environment during puberty. Suggestions, ideas & strange dreams are symptoms of confused attempts to understand new and blunt sexual desires and are rashly interpreted as defining someone as being one sexuality or another. If these conclusions are accompanied by actual homosexual acts they are even more strongly reinforced. Human instincts can be subjected to acts of will. Sexuality is a choice of identity which follows choices of action which follow from choices of what to have sexual fantasies about. Human beings are especially able to control their thoughts, entertaining some and dismissing others.”


          Clearly, there is no chance of Muslims in Nigeria to accept what is not ‘natural’ with human beings. This is the same with Christians. The Holy Bible severally condemns homosexuality and lumps it together with bestiality and other perverse leanings. The aim of every true Christian is to be worthy of entering into the Kingdom of God. In verses 9-10 of the first book of Corinthians, chapter 6, homosexuality is listed as one of the transgressions that will prevent a Christian from inheriting the Kingdom; “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”


          Nigeria may sometimes be dismissed as a place of over-church-attending, over-mosque-attending God-forsaken people where religious practices leave much to be desired, often coming across as borderline evil, but the Nigerian religious are a bunch of uncompromising zealots and will never betray their God by embracing gays and lesbians.


          There is also the issue of social and cultural perception. In Nigeria it is a shame to be gay or lesbian. This is why those that are known to be, never openly admit it. You find them in politics and literature masquerading as gay rights activists, but ask them pointedly on record if they are gay and you receive a very bland answer; “I don’t have to be gay to fight for the rights of gay and lesbian people” or “Why do I always get that question because I am trying to say stop attacking homosexuals for the way they are born?”


          If they are firm in their beliefs. If they are sure that they are simply wired that way. If they are certain that their rights ought to be protected, why is it that they cannot stand up to be counted? The idea of fighting for the faceless and the nameless is lame and will not achieve any results. All those people who are homosexuals should come out of the cupboards, wardrobes or wherever they are hiding and stand by their convictions and let us see if the Nigerian government will arrest them all and jail them.


          The truth of the matter is that the Nigerian society and culture frowns at homosexuality and the families of any confirmed gay people will have a hard time living down the shame. Nobody wants to be responsible for his old parents dying of heartbreak or even suicide.


          Nigeria does not need to make a law against homosexuality. This issue already is regulated by the country’s social and cultural norms. The only thing this law-making process will achieve is prove that the nation’s legislature are simply a bunch of overpaid clowns who don’t know what to do with their time. TB


This article was first published in Sunday Punch on 18th December 2011


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